Cool Things to Do in Fox Glacier, New Zealand

Fox Glacier is a tiny village in the South Island’s West Coast region. It boasts an accessible and stunning glacier of the same name but is often overshadowed by the nearby Franz Josef Glacier. However, Fox Glacier activities are diverse and thrilling, and whether you want to explore the glacier, go hiking, or relax in the lush bush surroundings, it is worth visiting. Keep reading to discover all the cool things to do in Fox Glacier, New Zealand.

Fox Glacier, New Zealand view through the lush bush surroundings.

The Landmarks & Main Fox Glacier Attractions

So, you likely want to visit this tiny town for two reasons: one, you heard about the relaxed Fox Glacier Valley walk, and two, you have seen some pictures of a calm, mirror-like lake, Lake Matheson, displaying phenomenal reflections in its waters of snow-capped mountains.

Indeed, these are the best things to do in Fox Glacier. However, there is much more to do in the area, especially for those who love nature adventures. 

We’ve been to both Franz Josef and Fox Glacier several times; in this story, we give you the highlights and also a comparison to help you decide which glacier you should visit. Additionally, check out our story on Franz Josef’s activities and adventures for the ultimate guide.

Fox Glacier

The glacier is the main attraction and the absolute best thing to do in Fox Glacier. 

There are several ways to experience it, and various types of Fox Glacier tours are available. One of the most popular is a Fox Glacier self guided walk, which takes you to view the the large mass of ice.

View of the Fox Glacier at the terminal face.

Lake Matheson

This beautiful lake is frequently showcased in New Zealand’s global promotional materials. Yet its off-the-beaten-track location makes it relatively unvisited, and you will find minimal crowds. 

The lake offers a cafe, picnic spots, and water views, and you could easily spend a pleasant half-day there. 

The easy walk to the first viewpoint takes only 20 minutes; at this spot, you can view the reflections of Mt Cook/Aoraki in the lake.

With many viewpoints, you can complete the circuit around the lake in approximately 1.5 hours.

However, for those passionate about photography, you may want to spend a couple of days in the area to get some of those stunning sunset and sunrise photos you may have seen.

Lake Matheson Jetty Lookout view of mountain and bush reflection in lake

We have written a comprehensive story on the Lake Matheson walk, with details to make the most of your visitincluding what you will see at each stage of the track, how to get there and photos. 

Cool Things to Do in Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier Scenic Flight   

A helicopter tour is one of the best things to do in Fox Glacier and one of our highlights on our South Island bucket list.

Fox Glacier helicopter flights are a once-in-a-lifetime experience, offering birds-eye views of the glacier and the surrounding mountains.

Various scenic flight options are available, with different durations and costs, depending on what you want to see and spend.

Fox Glacier South Side Walkway / Cycleway

The Glacier Viewpoint walk is the most popular in the area. The complete return trip takes about 1 hour and 50 minutes and takes you to multiple glacier viewpoints. Besides taking a helicopter, this walk is the closest you can get to the glacier by foot.

The Fox Glacier South Side Walk starts from the Glacier View Car Park and is an easy walk up the valley on a wide track. The ancient rainforest views are stunning, and you occasionally get views of the Fox River. 

The walk is also a mountain bike trail you can complete within an hour.

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Guide Tip: We enjoy taking many photos and walking at a leisurely pace, so it takes us longer to complete the walk. For those with limited time, the entire 6.4 km track can be completed in 1 hour and 15 minutes at a brisk pace without stopping.

Before you do this walk, read our ultimate guide of the Fox Glacier South Side Walkway. In our review, we share our experiences and give you practical details to assist you in planning your adventure, including how to get there and the time required for each stage of the walk. 

The track through ancient rainforest at Fox Glacier South Side walkway

Other Fox Glacier Walks

Lush rainforests surround the village, and plenty of hiking trails in the area cater to all fitness levels. These walks offer the best free things to do in Fox Glacier. They include:

Minnehaha Walk

The Minnehaha walk track is an easy, wheelchair-friendly 20-minute scenic bushwalk. The return walk of 1.2 km takes approximately 20 minutes and follows alongside a stream, offering stunning views of New Zealand’s native rainforest.

If you visit at night, you can see the famous Fox Glacier glow worms.

Lake Gault

The hike to Lake Gault is a little more strenuous, but it is worthwhile for those serious about getting off the beaten path and seeing the South Island’s most stunning scenery.

The 4-hour return walk starts from the Lake Matheson track. The walk up to Lake Gault offers bush and mountain views and impressive lake reflections.

Mt. Fox

For those who enjoy full-day hikes, Mt. Fox is one of the South Island’s best areas to explore. The hike takes you through lush forests to the top of the mountain, where you can enjoy 360-degree views, including breathtaking coastline panoramas.

Love bush walks?
Here are some of the West Coast’s most spectacular walks you should not miss:

Heli Hike Fox Glacier 

For those who crave adrenaline and unique adventures, you can hike on the ice with a Fox Glacier Heli Hike. Guided tours take you by helicopter to a spot on the ice, where you can climb and hike through stunning ice formations and get an up-close personal experience. 

See Glow Worms

One of the coolest things to do in Fox Glacier is to see the glowworms after dark. You can find the glow worms in banks and terraces in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park.

One of the more accessible short walks where you can see the glowing creatures is the Minnehaha walk, mentioned above.

Remember to bring a torch and turn it off when you approach them. We have found they are also sensitive to noise.

Fox Glacier Viewpoint / Te Kopikopiko o te waka

If you have already selected the Franz Josef Glacier Walk and you are running short of time or energy to do another walk, you can still get to a Fox Glacier lookout by driving just 9 kilometres off the highway to this cultural heritage site.

The view is one of the most stunning and easily accessible glacier views on the South Island, and it includes gorgeous farmland and Southern Alps vistas.

It’s a great spot to sit at the table, bench seats, and enjoy lunch.

Incidentally, we have done many of the walks mentioned earlier and haven’t been short on time. Of all the Fox Glacier things to do, we consider this viewpoint one of our favourites.

To reach the viewpoint, drive five minutes past the Lake Matheson turn off. It is on Gillespies Beach Road, just before the Clearwater Creek Bridge.

Fox Glacier viewpoint overlooking the glacier in the distance as well as farmland and mountains.

Gillespies Beach

If you’re wondering what to do in Fox Glacier surrounding area, just 20 km west of the village, the drive to Gillespies Beach offers some stunning rainforest scenery, and the beach showcases the wild West Coast. 

The highlight of our visit was strolling along the rocky shore, looking for coloured stones, and finding we had the beach all to ourselves!

Additionally, visitors can follow walking trails from the DOC campground to see several gold mining artifacts, a historic cemetery and a fur seal colony.

Gillespies Beach is a detour off the main highway, some of which is unsealed. However, there are so many fun things to do at Gillespies Beach; it is worth visiting for those who have time, especially to see the sunset into the ocean. 

We highly recommend this as the best Fox Glacier camping ground for those who are okay with basic camping and want to embrace slow travel.

Gillespies Beach view of ocean and rocky beach.

New Zealand South Island Travel Insider Guide Tip: In these parts of the West Coast, sandflies can be quite a nuisance. We find if you fully cover your body, you can deter them. However, it is essential to always keep insect repellent handy, as their bites can spoil your trip.

These are just some of the coolest things to do in Fox Glacier. However, for those inclined, horse riding, skydiving, whitewater rafting, 4WD offroad adventures and kayaking are also available in the area.

Fox Glacier Restaurants

There are a few Fox Glacier food options in and near the village.

The Cafe Neve is popular for its outdoor seating on the village’s main road. 

The White Pub Cafe & Bar is known for its hearty gourmet food.

Matheson Cafe Fox Glacier is a great spot to take in outstanding mountain views and is at the entry to the Lake Matheson Walk.

Cook Saddle Cafe & Saloon serves tasty meals with a cosy ambience and a gorgeous homey interior.

One of the coolest things to do in Fox Glacier is to eat at the Cook Saddle cafe with its rustic decor

Fox Glacier vs Franz Josef Glacier

Several people have asked us whether they should visit Fox Glacier or Franz Josef Glacier. 

It’s an interesting question, and the only way we can answer it is to inform you that you must make time to see both! Where in the world can you see the last remaining glaciers? These are New Zealand’s most accessible glaciers and among the largest. Both offer pleasant bush walks with many side trails and spectacular glacier views (provided you have the right weather and good visibility.)

However, if you are short on time, you can take a 20-minute helicopter ride over both glaciers, which includes a snow landing. The experience is one of the most incredible things to do in Fox Glacier and Franz Josef, and we consider this South Island bucket list item a must-do!

Getting to Fox Glacier

Fox Glacier is approximately 7 hours south of Picton (this is where the ferry to the South Island ports) and 5.5 hours from Christchurch.

Greymouth to Fox Glacier is 2.5 hours south.

Queenstown to Fox Glacier is 4 hours and 30 minutes.

Franz Josef to Fox Glacier is 30 minutes drive time.

The village is accessible by car or bus. 

If you’re driving around the South Island, the West Coast scenic coastal route is highly recommended. There are plenty of photo opportunities along the way. 

Where are you headed to next?
Check out our ultimate guide to the best attractions on the West Coast.
& don’t miss New Zealand’s Great Coast Road drive.

Is Fox Glacier Worth Visiting?

The charming tiny town offers a wide range of outdoor activities and breathtaking natural beauty. The fact that you can go on scenic flights and glacier hikes, visit the famous Lake Matheson mirror lake, walk through ancient rainforests, and enjoy stunning mountain views of Mt. Cook and the Southern Alps make Fox Glacier a must do! 

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